Of course, all the framed poster examples of tattoos would need to come down. And the iconic bric-a-brac, including a portly Buddha and a feathered dragon, that clutters a few cabinet-tops has little place in a practical office. A bicycle hangs from the ceiling, yet the tattoo parlor has a sterile aura about it. Florescent lighting and a sign stating "STAFF ONLY" on a three-foot barrier that halves the room add to this perception. I look back into the twilight and feel glad of the unexpected comfort of a warm, well-lighted place. Prepared as I was for the dimly lit, hackneyed tattoo parlor, Revolution Tattoo and Body Piercing, as well as its employees, present a surprising impression about the artistry revealed in ink, in the skin.
I have come to meet Chad Hartgrave, a tattoo artist. Chad is taller than I am—at about six feet—with a dark goatee and intelligent smile. He has his hands in the pockets of black jeans, which, along with a "Sludgeplow Loud Band" shirt, cover up what he tells me are at least twenty tattoos. I wonder if his black beanie is hiding a tattoo as well; I can see one wrapped around his neck, which looks like it has petals, and several up and down his forearms. An alien disembarking from a space ship on his kneecap remains his favorite, though. Chad also has nose and ear piercings, but he doesn't seem like the standard tattoo artist/heavy metal bass player.
Until three years ago he ran his own custom tattoo business, which went under when he broke up with his girlfriend. Chad's tattoo work had to become his dominant focus, but he still manages to play with two heavy metal bands in town. Arms folded against his chest, Chad leans against the Dutch door on the "STAFF ONLY" side where all tattooing occurs, a little tired looking, and resigned. Perhaps he just stayed up too late jamming with one of his bands. Chad has been playing bass since he was nine, which is his release from work. If it weren't for music, he would burn out on tattooing, and vice versa.
Tattoo remains Chad's true interest, and he appreciates his repeat clients. Having only joined Revolution a short while ago, he keeps most of his regulars from before. As we begin the interview, he is wiping down a black leather chair from his most recent customer, taking pains to explain the whole tattoo procedure to me.
"Everything is one-time-use only. Ink, gloves and needles are all individual. The tubes in the needle guns go through ultrasound and autoclaving." On average, he gets about one customer per day, so he likes to take his time preparing a sanitary environment for each.
Wondering what he does with all that spare time, I ask, "Do you do any body piercing besides your tattooing?"
"No. But Brad there could talk your ear off about it," he says indicating his boss. "I want to do one thing and do it well. I only know a few people in the industry who do both and pull it off; most people have their priorities, anyway." Brad, who shares Chad's tattoo station, waves from behind the front desk. On it lie scattered portfolios of tattoos and a telephone. Beyond that point, shelves strewn with books and figurines stand near a paneled changing screen. Next to those an open doorway, with a sign above it advertising "Body Piercing", leads to another room. Chad mentions that there are more women giving piercings than tattoos, although still greatly outnumbered by the men. He can't say why.
"What's your favorite tattoo to draw, then?" I want to know.
"Let me show you my portfolio," he offers, grabbing it from the front desk. It is filled with various designs, many of which are influenced by a Japanese style. He doesn't draw people or traditional designs like flaming hearts. The one he is working on right now, his current favorite, is of a large Japanese-looking dog that will soon wrap around a man's arm. Behind his station hangs another creation: a great goldfish surrounded by white-crested waves.
Chad shows me another picture of a small upside-down crescent tattooed on a girl's forehead. "That was the weirdest one I ever drew," he says, "I tried to make it look as realistic as possible, with the silver and blue shading. It took me only ten minutes, but it took a lot of energy, too." Working on faces seems strange to him; he has only done about five or six in the year he's worked at Revolution.
"And the dumbest tattoo you've ever done?"
"Whenever a girl comes in here asking me to tattoo a man's name on her, I always ask if it's her dad. I try and talk her out of it." Although Chad refuses to tattoo someone who is drunk, he remains surprised that sober people want tattoos of names put on themselves. Names, he thinks, are not creative, and as the canvas, the customer should be embarrassed.
"So what makes up for all these dumb people who want names drawn on them? What is your favorite part about tattooing?"
"I feel honored that some customers come only to me for their tattoos, because they're like walking art galleries. Tattoos are art on the skin that will be there forever, longer than any jewelry or clothing." I see all the energy he puts into his work, and feel respect for Chad as an artist, understanding how much of an art form tattoo can be.